In late November, one of the most curious concepts for a network TV show — “The Last Resort” — was cancelled by ABC. Co-creator Shawn Ryan, mastermind behind “The Shield” and “The Unit” went on actor/internet talk show host Kevin Pollack’s show to discuss that, among other things related to the TV entertainment — it’s fascinating.
One of the interesting statements that Ryan made on Pollock’s show was that broadcasters — through their conspiratorial partnerships with the television content distributors (DirecTv, Comcast, Verizon’s FiOS, DISH, and Time Warner Cable… to name a few) — aggregate an enormous and inordinate amount of viewership data (best believe your set-top box – even if it’s a Roku or AppleTV – sends signals as much as it receives signals) that can be (and is) used to determine how many people are actually watching a given show… at a given time.
The broadcasters and cable companies are able to determine what the overall audience is for any given time slot and then how that audience breaks up (based upon information that you provide willingly or unwillingly through your subscription) — some people watch “The Voice”, others watch “Sons of Anarchy” and other still watch “Modern Family.” The real trick is knowing the detailed profile of the viewer… that’s something the boxes can’t do yet (perhaps when we are able to use the TV as a person-to-person communication device, then the cable companies will find a back door in and be watching us… just like Orwell predicted).
Okay, so the big thing we all know is that Viewership Ratings is the most coveted datavalue in any form of entertainment – for movies it’s simple, how much a film grossed in the box office; divide that number by 10, and you have the number of people actually sat in a theatre and watched the movie (ten being the average cost of a ticket in the US). When it comes to DVD/Blu-Ray or VOD, that’s a bit trickier, because I might have some friends over to watch the film and it only counts as “one person” watching to the bean counters.
Network and Cable TV officially measure ratings in three ways (that they tell us about) original airing, DVR+3 and DVR+7; the DVR number indicates the number of days a show is watched after the original air date. These numbers get added for a cumaltive value of which is the number of people who officially viewed the show (it doesn’t take into account pirated viewing).
By some recent estimates, certain shows have been saved by DVR+3 and DVR+7 by which they gain on average 50 percent more audience, and some shows pull in as much as 80 percent more audience!
However, what’s is missing from this number is anyone who views the a DVR’d show after the 7 days past the original air date. You may be like a lot of people who watch episodes in chunks, binge viewing if you will; like three, four or five episodes in row (that’s how I consumed such gotta-see-what-happens next shows like NBC’s “Life” and BBC America’s “Copper”. But this kind of viewing behavior detonates a couple of pounds of C4 under the clankety old broadcast model of audience-flow.
Audience-flow is the programming strategy that was developed in the 1980s in which there are lean-ins and lead-outs, and how the current show retains much of the previous show’s audience.
In addition, Advertisers (the bankroll for all TV except for premium pay channels like HBO, Cinemax, Playboy, Starz) hate the viewship cume, because only the Overnights indicate who watched a show “live” and therefore had to watch the commercials.
Now this gauge of viewership doesn’t mean as much any more if a larger and growing portion of the audience watches via DVR and has no clue or could care less about timeslots and is ad-skipping anyway… (granted there still is some appointment TV, but mainly on cable, like “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones”). But with the DVR numbers thrown in the actual viewership is higher, but this presents a double-edge sword in terms of production budgets, which is intrinsically linked to the Nielson numbers, of which determines how much money Madison Avenue will put behind a given show in given time slot.
Something else to consider is that when Netflix started streaming TV series by the season, the ways and means in which TV consumers “eat their TV” began and continues to change — people binge watch their favorite TV shows. I watched the whole first seaon of Showtime’s “Weeds” in a weekend, and I have little recognition over which nameplate was behind the show.
Entertainment consumers can “set their season pass” for the shows such that they get to mainline them into the emotional veins. What is also probably true is that people consume more TV now than they did 20 years ago… just not on the Big Four Networks… which have the dickens of a time consistently producing the type of religious following programming that many cable networks have.
Earlier I mentioned the “nameplate” attributed to a show; nameplates for shows traditionally are the network that broadcast them, but since more and more people are watching shows on Netflix the idea of a time slot is jettisoned like a villain in James Bond’s car. And the concept of a “nameplate” is weakened, but also strengthened (if the creators opt to put their company name plates at the beginning of the opening credit sequence… just like in the movie… to increasing branding) by the Netflix model or DVR binging viewing behavior.
J.J. Abrams’ BAD ROBOT nameplate is perhaps one of the most lauded in the current TV landscape… it gives a sense of expectation of the caliber of the product (unfortunately TV nameplates, at present, go at the end of the show, after all the credits and promos for upcoming shows, and who the hell sticks around for all that?)
Netflix, which has extreme brand recognition at this point, has gotten into the programming business itself. Its first project is a show called “Lilyhammer” and the second (which is eagerly anticipated by myself) is “House of Cards” a David Fincer and Kevin Spacey collaboration; it’s a remake of a BBC show from the ‘90s (which is currently available on Netflix streaming, and I would wager that original gets pulled in January, so there’s little to no confusion with Netflix’s new series_.
I’m curious to know how Netflix will advertise the Fincher-Spacy “House of Cards” because Netflix doesn’t have commercials of any sort during its offerings. That might change, but they’ll probably buy air time during other hot shows on in-demand cable channels, like AMC, F/X and USA.
I’m pretty sure that the entire first season of “House of Cards” will be available the day that it debuts on the website. It would be foolish and/or shortsighted (aren’t they the same?) for Netflix not to offer that way, thus allowing people to binge watch the show if they get hooked on it. I know when I received my “For Your Consideration” pass for Showtime, I devoured the whole first season of “Homeland” in about a week (it’s that good).
On a certain level, watching TV programs in chunks via the DVR is a boon to content creators and writers, because it can enable certains to live, when they otherwise might have died, and the viewers can experience the creator’s vision in a more complete package (if they wanted).
This is good for writers, why? As Charles B. Slocum explained it, “Product is essential (in the DVR age). New stories are crucial. Characters count more than ever. And imagination? Invaluable: Writers hold the keys to that vault.”
We can continue the conversation on Twitter @unauthorizedCBD.